Trip report: Ethiopia, Birding the Roof of Africa (Feb 2010) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Ken Behrens.

Many people imagine Ethiopia as a flat, famine-ridden desert, but this is far from the case. Ethiopia is remarkably diverse, and unexpectedly lush. This is the ʻroof of Africaʼ, holding the continentʼs largest and most contiguous mountain ranges, and some of its tallest peaks. Cleaving the mountains is the Great Rift Valley, which is dotted with beautiful lakes. Towards the borders of the country lie stretches of dry scrub that are more like the desert most people imagine. But even in this arid savanna, diversity is high, and the desert explodes into verdure during the rainy season. The diversity of Ethiopiaʼs landscapes supports a parallel diversity of birds and other wildlife, and although birds are the focus of our tour, there is much more to the country. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never systematically colonized, and it has a proud history that includes stories of King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, and the Arc of the Covenant. A staggering variety of languages and cultures including those of the Hammer, Mursi, Oromo and Afar people, is splashed across Ethiopia. Many people here live much the same as they have for thousands of years. Traveling into the countryside can be like stepping back in time. Fields are plowed by oxen, grain threshed by hand, and homes made from plants gathered in the surrounding area. There is something magical about seeing a tree full of the grass nests of Social Weavers above a hut whose roof is woven from the same material. This kind of harmony between humans and other creatures is long forgotten in more ʻindustrializedʼ countries. Although this country is poor by modern standards, the people are friendly and open, and few places in Africa are as safe or rich in culture. Ethiopia is one of the worldʼs premier birding destinations. It supports about 850 species, putting it in Africaʼs top 10. But the total species count does not tell the whole story, as it is second only to South Africa when it comes to the number of endemic species it supports. There are 16 endemics restricted to political Ethiopia and another 18 ʻAbyssinianʼ endemics only found in Ethiopia and Eritrea. For the birder wanting to economize, and see the greatest number of birds in the fewest trips to Africa, Ethiopia is an essential destination.

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